2015, the year in review
Our 3rd annual reviewFor the last few years we have been writing a “year in review” post and have learned a great deal in the process. Our lives seem to be changing at such a rapid pace that this seems a nice chance to look at the big picture, remember where we were at this time last year, and then begin setting goals for 2016. What went well in 2015:
financial stability/profit. This has to be at the top of the list since it was our primary goal from last year. There are however both pros and cons under this bullet. On the upside, we knew we would have to be willing to work our tails off to accomplish this...and work hard we did! We jumped in with both feet, lived in a construction zone most of the year and did whatever it took to wrap this up before the year was over.The real question here is how we define "profitability". The year saw us take our account beyond zero and into the red, which most wouldn't exactly call "profitable"... we also didn't end the year with more in our account than we started it with.
But...we did complete our plan and the projects that essentially triple the possible income we could be bringing in and shifted from having covered mortgage to having (hopefully) a continuous stream of passive income.We have long discussed the fact that our financial goals were about getting rid of "stuff", minimizing bills and needs, but now it's time to continue focusing on aligning several small income streams to support our daily/weekly/monthly/yearly habits rather than the traditional idea of stockpiling a savings for some date in the future.
Transformation. In the process of trying to transform our livestlye into one that's sustainable/profitable we also transformed something ugly into something beautiful. We took a house that many would have argued should be torn down, lacked light and was almost unlivable and turned it into two well designed, very livable spaces that we and others love having the chance to spend time in, one of which also transformed into a bit of a community (but more on that in another bullet below).
Happiness! We worked harder this year than we may have planned/hoped and were so focused on our primary plan/goal that we did little to veer off that path, but we remain impossibly happy and content each day. We are loving the path were on, the freedom we've found and fact that we are both completely unwilling to let that go for any other path or way of life. I honestly can't imagine how we could be any happier than we are!
Travel I have to admit to being really surprised when i started doing the math on our travel this year. For a year so focused on our projects we somehow still found a way to increase our travel from last year and spent 114days out of town and exploring.
Much of it came in the form of our little central america road trip to bring the bus back home, but we also stole away for a few weeks of summer volleyball in vancouver, took a group of friends to New Orleans for the French Quarter festival, A trip to Hollywood to see Jimmy Buffett and a handful of other PNW excursions for winetasting, hanging out at the coast etc.Somehow we managed to travel 30% of the year and the biggest positive is that much of it was unplanned, spur of the moment trips with the ability to go and/or stay as long as we wanted...which truly speaks to our newfound (and evolving) freedom.
We are also thrilled to be able to call our projects officially done and are already in the process of planning/booking exciting trips for next year!
We did what scared us. Not just in depleting our checking account. We made a pact to ourselves at some point this year to do things that scare us...especially if those things are related to sharing our story or helping others know that there is indeed another or better path out there than continuing down a road that doesn't excite you or fill you with joy or passion.In the past we have always shied away from interviews and run like hell away from anything that involved recording our voices or putting us on film.
This year we spoke at a small housing summit, did a handful of interviews, 2 podcasts, actually allowed a camera to film us for the local news and even a small cut of film for a broader market.Each one fed into our goals of sharing our story and helping others, but the real win here is that we didn't allow our fears make our decisions for us.
zenbox/starting a business We ran ahead with starting a business this year, including formally/legally creating the business, taking on clients, printing business cards and everything else that goes along with business ownership (sadly, including paying taxes).
We somehow found and worked with an amazing group of clients, found a way to make money essentially doing what i love and have turned it into (by all accounts) a successful business. It has also begun to be a gratifying experience as this year saw a project through completion, saw another break ground and yet another enter the permitting process (and we already have another handful of ADU designs in motion that will begin construction hopefully before next summer).
Possibly more important than any other success with zenbox is that i have kept stress low and have yet to make single decision based on making money rather than doing what sounds fun, exciting or alluring (in fact, we turned down far more clients than we accepted).
Now we just have to figure out how big we want this thing to be moving forward. Im already working to find drafters/support to take those parts of the process away that i don't thrive on and will further ensure our ability to travel where/when we want. The funny/ironic part of it all for me is that my entire life i fought trying to come up with a business strategy that i could enjoy and be successful at. Now, mostly by accident we have a business that seems so successful we should actually be trying to grow/brand/hire it into something larger... but that seems counter to all of our other goals and the furthest thing from our current plans.
Community We did a good job this year of developing our community of like minded people, whether it be those looking to change their lifestyle, those looking to minimiz or build small homes, those looking for travel/adventure or even just those looking to think outside the box. We met an amazing group of people in the small housing/minimalist movement/community at the Build Small, Live Large conference, we had a steady stream of travelers stopping in to meet us as they embarked on their own journeys/adventures and made several friends in the process. In the process of creating MakerFlat, we connected a small community of artists and makers in portland that hopefully will all gain freedom from the exposure and community as a result. We also simply continued to meet amazing people...some from existing friends, some from the podcasts and interviews we did during the course of the year, some that reached out to us from the blog and some seemingly completely by accident.
Friendships We also both feel that we did a good job this year of actually drawing closer to some of our existing friends. Seems hard to do with a group we already considered family, but somehow this year it feels like a handful of those connection are even deeper and richer than before. Maybe it's simply being back in town for contiguous years, maybe its just the time/frequency we've been able to spend with them, but for at least a few of the couples we spend the most time with i feel like we've been able to draw even deeper and closer to them than we were before. I keep realizing more each year the importance of surrounding yourself by a group of people who embrace and support your goals, who build you up rather than holding you back and who inspire you to be and do more rather than expecting you to settle for the norm.
Sprintervan This is intimately tied to our bullet on Travel, but also worth its own. We knew last year that we needed to eventually figure out a plan for the bus and to get ourselves out traveling/exploring. Before our friends' trip to Hollywood it became clear that the bus was no longer working for us. We never once even considered driving, and instead hopped online to buy flights. We talked in depth about this because it should have been the perfect chance for a long, slow drive down the coast playing volleyball and chasing waves. We slowly realized that the bus (despite our deep love and emotional attachment to it) was prohibiting road travel rather than promoting it...
We not only made the decision to get a sprinter, we made the move quickly and now "own" a vehicle that has already inspired and prompted road trips and has us eager and excited for more. We are thrilled and looking forward to planning the camperization, to outfitting the sprinter into our new home away from home and even to possibly imagineering it into a set of expanded zenbox design services...
Here’s a basic breakdown of what we feel didn’t go so well in 2015 (or better phrased, since it was a pretty amazing year...things we still think we can improve on next year):
finances. While we worked on our projects with exactly the right goals/motivation in mind, the simple fact is that we spent a LOT of money this year. 10s of thousands on the renovations/projects alone, completely tapping out our accounts and any foundation/safety net we had going into the year. We also had to put a down payment on the sprinter, which took away whatever ground we were gaining toward replenishing at the end of the year.
Late in the year we also caught ourselves starting to relax, to play and treat ourselves a bit more financially... which was awesome actually. I wouldn't say we splurged by any account, but we did begin to feel like we had earned a bit more relaxed spending habits after all our work; we played a bit more, and even took on more financial burden/reoccurring payments with the sprinter. Not a huge problem, but we should make sure we are safe and have a good foundation before getting too crazy. Again, this is all about balance and life is a marathon not a sprint.
health/exercise This was one of our major objectives moving into this year and apparently will be again moving into next year. We did find pockets of time for volleyball and jen spent some time at the gym and with a personal trainer but both were a small portion of our year, and we still want to find a way to make it a larger point of focus moving forward. We are both healthy and in decent shape, but not really due to any of our own work unless carrying materials counts as exercise.
We would like to spend far more time in the coming year finding enjoyable ways of staying fit - beach volleyball, backpacking, surfing, snowboarding, lovemaking, rock climbing...all on the list and all hopefully a far more frequent addition to our schedules next year.
travel. More, more, more! We were amazed at the number of days we were able to travel this year but we would like that number to grow and would also like to add in more travel with friends and more travel to exotic locations that would allow us to scuba dive, snorkel, surf and explore other cultures. Obviously the sprinter is the key to more PNW exploration...but we also want to find those opportunities to run away to a tropical paradise and refresh on the beach. We are already planning a group trip to mexico, discussing driving back to baja for an extended time in the spring and considering some larger trips next fall that would give us a reason and focus for savings.
art and creativity This year was all about renovation and very specific projects. Those had pockets that allowed for specifically designed furniture and creative pieces and our zenbox clients allowed for some other architectural creativity...but now it's time to make and play and create the fun stuff. The small things that might not even have a bigger purpose other than simply to create them. We both want to make more, to playfully and artfully create, and build and draw and paint more... and see where the inspiration leads us. We also want to be more playful and silly and lighthearted and do the things that make us laugh and chuckle and smile (and to make others do the same).
home base Seems counter to wanting more travel...but we also want more downtime in the loft, in our neighborhood and around our friends/family where we really want to be while in town. This year we spent most of our weeks being completely nomadic and hopping from place to place. Luckily, all of those places are good option and staying in any of them is delightful...but later in the year when we had some opportunities to spend more than a day or two at a time in the loft we realized exactly how much we were missing it. How much we enjoy the opportunities to happen into friends and neighbors and the ability to run into and meet new people (to say nothing of the abiity to soak in the hot tub multiple times a day). We worked hard to create a place we actually wanted to be...now we want a bit more time to be there enjoying it!
social/entertaining. Because we spent so much of the year nomadic and living in the studio (which was an empty shell for much of the year) we found it difficult to invite others over and to host the type of social events that we enjoyed so much last year. We would love to find a way to put more of those events back on our calendar; to share intimate and deep conversations over dinner, to introduce groups of friends to one another and to generally see more of those we love .
giving back/helping others Part of our goal of profitability was a hope of being able to give back to others. Sadly, since our own goal of "profit" has an interesting definition...we certainly couldnt give back in the financial sense of the word this year. We tried to find small opportunities at least within our group of friends to give back. To design back yards and remodels, to help with building, renovation and painting projects, to design some logos and business cards... little things that hopefully helped made their lives easier and saved them some money and hassle- but small tokens compared to what we would like to be able to do, both for our group of friends and others we don't know who are in need. We hope to find more ways to give back, to broaden our ability to share with others, support and help others find the confidence and happiness we have and do whatever we can to promote others to achieve their goals.
balance for zenbox So far we have been drawing a good line with zenbox. Only taking clients that we choose to work with and only working for passion and creativity rather than money. That said, there continues to be increased interest and those decisions seem to be getting harder. In the coming year i would like to find more partnerships to share in the process, to take away the portions of the process i'm not completely driven/excited by and find a way to make the business inherently sustainable longer term.
transportation This was on our list last year as well, but mostly due to our needs to run errands and haul materials we seem to have neglected it again this year. When in town, we would still love to only drive when absolutely necessary- both for the good of the environment, for our city and our bodies.
writing I continue to write and update the blog, but with far less frequency (especially when we aren't out traveling/exploring). I'd love to make writing a bit more of a focus and with a greater cause than simply tracking our days' events. The photos in the blog are a great tool for looking back and collecting memories, but the times i most enjoy writing are the posts where Im truly pushing myself to consider things on a deeper level (much like this one). I'd also love to start sharing other's stories, using the blog more as a tool/resource for those looking for inspiration and change in their own life and as a way to reach a broader audience.
mindfulness Maybe this point is simply coming up because we have been running flat out for most of this last year. Maybe we just want to make sure our minds are aligned with our bodies and that peace and tranquility is just as much a focus as our happiness. In the coming year we are seeking more ways to slow down, to breathe more deeply and find those moments for deep reflection before an annual review.
E, the bus We just made a major decision and leap into our next vehicle, our future home away from home and our next exciting camper conversion project with the sprinter. What we didn't yet do was figure out what the plan is for our beloved bus. For now it is parked away, covered and protected from the weather and rain. Our emotional attachment is no less than it was before, even though we are having a blast driving the new vehicle...so the task now becomes to decide upon our plan for the bus. As much as we can't imagine parting with it, the simple facts are that we don't need a second vehicle parked in a garage (or a second vehicle at all), we truly believe that it should be out exploring rather than tucked away... and that in addition to those...we could really use the money that selling it to someone else could provide.
Last year i mentioned that I hoped 2015 would become the year of profitability, “A year where we retain the happiness we’ve found through giving it all up, but can start to once again save for the future, and to find ways to give something to others as well”.
As discussed above, that's a fairly difficult goal for us to judge, but we both feel pretty good about where we are. Despite having bounced off the bottom and realized our account was empty part way through the year, we have started to rebuild that foundation and now have what should be a returning passive income stream earning us a small amount of cash (with or without us working)... which does mean profit moving forward each month despite the fact we end this year with less cash than we started.
Next year we would like to continue to grow that foundation but hopefully our plan works on its own and we can focus more on the balance of other parts of out lives and those around us. We're exciting to continue seeing where this path will take us in 2016, to having more free time and flexibility and to settling in to this new, strange lifestyle we are trying to lead. We are also excited to continue expanding our community of like-minded people... to finding and embracing others, reaching out to those we know and don't know in an attempt to enrich all of our lives. To continue and magnify the positive energy that comes from being around others with similar goals, passions, lifestlyes and adventures!
Thanks, as always to Chris and the Art of Nonconformity for giving us the idea and inspiration for an #AnnualReview. His process continues to be learning experience, and the crowd of people he attracts continue to impress and inspire us!